27/04/18

Socks Off

Words: Ben Clement

Images: Julian Berman, George Staniland, James Whiting, AM:PM.RC

When we think about socks… wait, when do we even think about socks? We certainly don’t think about the technology involved in making a tubed tapestry of cotton designed to stop blisters and keep your feet warm. But socks have come a long way in recent years and there is still a lot of exploring and innovating to be done when it comes to the humble sock. Good Sport set out to discover what the folk at Stance have been up to in their lab in LA on the release of a new technology called Feel360, which aims to make socks fresher, dryer and more durable.

Speaking with Javier Fernandez, senior director of marketing at Stance, to get the lowdown, we go back to the origins of Stance and look at what kind of culture you need to take on the sock game. “From the beginning, our tagline has been ‘the uncommon thread’. And I think that kind of resonates all the way through the company,” Fernandez says. “If we’re going to build a product or enter a new category, or work with an athlete, we’re always looking for a different way to approach that, to smash out some of those conventional ways of thinking. For example, we work with Anton Krupicka, who’s an accomplished, talented runner, but also an outlier in many ways. We have a tendency to embrace those things that are different or a little uncomfortable, and kind of latch onto those things and surround ourselves with that.”

There is a notion that we live in this highly saturated world and we have access to so much information, so the idea of being “different” is dissolving. Fernandez mentions how socks present a different challenge from a branding point of view and how Stance is inherently different from what has previously existed in the industry. “We took a category that hasn’t really been shown a lot of attention from a branding or technology perspective,” he says. “There are lots of people who make socks, but our founders identified an opportunity to enter that space and really start to innovate it.”

Which brings us to the question of how do you even begin to innovate a sock? To the untrained mind it’s hard to imagine what could possibly be changed or added to a sock. Straight off the bat, Fernandez says versions 2.0 and 3.0 of Feel360 will be the next big wave of innovation. “We’ve already landed on it and things are still coming in and it’s radically different from where we are at now,” he says. “There’s some exciting stuff that will happen within the next 12 to 18 months.”

Right now, looking at the Feel360 technology, it already states that it reduces 99.95% of odour causing bacteria, it regulates temperatures and radically accelerates wicking, all while being more durable than ever. Fernandez says all of these small things don’t necessarily take seconds or minutes off a race time, but from a holistic approach they all work together to aid performance. “If we can help an athlete stay focused, be more comfortable and have fewer worries when they are out on the court or track, then we have done our job.

“If we can help an athlete stay focused, be more comfortable and have fewer worries when they are out on the court or track, then we have done our job.”

“The Feel360 technology was something we had to test. We connected with the run crew from Melbourne AM:PM. who were training for the infamous Speed Project race, the crew trained, walked and basically slept in the socks leading up to and during the 550km non-stop relay that goes through the desert from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. The Speed Project was the perfect place to test out the technology, it had all the elements and more to see how they performed. As runners, your mind tends to wander or switch off and not focus too much on things like how your feet feel, unless they’re in pain. There was something quite instantaneously noticeable with this new tech. The way the crew spoke about it sounded like they worked for the brand. They mentioned the breathability and comfort, even in the height of the West Coast sun, putting in numerous km’s and sweating more than usual, it felt like the sock adapted to their feet while running, it distributed sweat better and another positive, NO SMELL!.”

Fernandez is part of an eclectic team made up of engineers, scientists and designers, people who have worked on fighter jets and people who have come from leading footwear companies. “Our work is incredibly process orientated. We have a product development team that does nothing but push the threshold of what is possible with knitting,” says Fernandez. Cue images of a futuristic moon base, with a team testing a Stance spacesuit. Fernandez laughs: “I don’t want to talk about anything too far into the future, but I can tell you that there are members of NASA’s astronaut team who grace our office on a regular basis. Stance is always looking for what’s next, but it’s about being smart. We’re not going to throw a whole lot of resources at something that won’t yield a really positive impact. There’s not going to be a time when we stop innovating, and we know that that’s going to be a strong differentiator for us. It’s really fun for us to always push the envelope with something as seemingly simple as a sock.”